In short, there are powerful reasons — going to the heart of America’s vital national interests — why presidents of both parties have been careful to support Israel so consistently and so publicly, though not unconditionally.
Senator Hagel is a smart man and a patriot. He will have the chance to explain his views at his confirmation hearing. Perhaps his past comments about Israel indicate frustration that does not reflect his true attitude toward American support for that nation. If so, he needs to show an understanding that as secretary of defense he would not have the same latitude to speak impulsively that he had as a senator. If, on the other hand, he believes that a different policy toward Israel would better serve American security, he owes it to the country and the president he wants to serve to make his position clear in strategic terms.
One final point: The military establishment Senator Hagel wants to lead has been in a state of decline for many years. It is desperately in need of recapitalization and reform. The defense cuts of the last two years have made the situation vastly worse, and the “sequester” due to go into effect in a few weeks would be a final blow to military readiness. According to Admiral Thomas Coleman, commander of the surface fleet, the Navy is already becoming a “hollow force.”
Senator Hagel ought to explain what he will do to ensure that the military does not continue to be the scapegoat of Washington’s budget crisis. Otherwise it won’t matter what his or the president’s attitude is toward the Middle East or anywhere else. No foreign policy will protect Israel, or America, without the power to back it up.
— Jim Talent is a former member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a fellow at the Heritage Foundation specializing in military affairs.